Can Facebook Really Be An Addiction?
By Stacey Ross
“You know what you have become, don't you?” an online colleague asked me accusingly a few years back. “What you are, Stacey, is a Twitter Tweeker!”
I chuckled, considering my newly-assigned status a badge of honor – that is until I had to experience life without cell phone service for a few days. It was then that I realized I'd become like one of those Borgs in Star Trek, disconnected from the Collective!
During this “unplugged” family camping trip, I found myself literally going through social media withdrawal, fingers shaking as if I needed a fix! Irrationally, I thought that if I was to miss out for even half-a-day, I would be cut off from this new lifeline I had embraced as a work-at-home "online mom.”
When I asked my husband when we were heading over to the town store, he would joke with me, injecting his arm with a metaphorical social media syringe. I inhaled the wilderness and soon saw how ludicrous this all was, but at the same, this little obsession of mine triggered awareness and concern.
More addictive that nicotine and alcohol
Is this type of dependency truly an addiction or merely a manifestation of the tech-oriented society we have so passionately embraced as the cultural norm? A recent University of Chicago study found that social media is more addictive than nicotine and alcohol and, for many, harder to turn down than sex! An MIT study suggested there may even be a chemical basis for Facebook addiction.
The possibility of being addicted to Facebook, which now has over 1 billion users, is already being taken seriously in some countries. In China, Taiwan and South Korea, “Internet Addiction Disorder” is already accepted as a psychological diagnosis, and this year it will be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder, the American “bible of psychology!”
The Facebook dependency test
Are you addicted to social media? You can assess yourself using the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, which was developed by psychologist Dr. Cecilie Andraessen at the University of Bergen in Norway. It suggests that the symptoms of Facebook addiction resemble those of alcohol and drug dependency.
To rate yourself, read the following statements, then assign each one a score of 1-Very rarely, 2-Rarely, 3-Sometimes, 4-Often and 5-Very often, depending on how much you believe the description applies to you.
- You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning how to use it.
- You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
- You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems.
- You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
- You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
- You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.
Scoring “often” or “very often” on at least four of the six items might suggest the respondent is addicted to Facebook, Andraessen and colleagues contend.
Facebook and our kids
Facebook addiction may have a disproportionate impact on younger users of the social network.
“If I am ‘liked’ multiple times in a day or acknowledged as beautiful in a photo, I can honestly say I feel a shift in my mood and I feel compelled to friend more and more people,” said Candace, a college freshman. “When I first started college, I felt as though I needed to keep up with my colleagues and continue to build online friendships, to post at parties, etc. Going on Facebook, in particular, was where many of us felt the pressure to measure up. It really took a toll on me.”
A middle school counselor shared the following: “Interpersonal conflicts that we discuss in the school counseling office often become so convoluted, often stemming from some Facebook posts or texting scenarios. The conflicted teens get so caught up and consumed with images and entries posted in the virtual world and via their habitual phone texts and social media platforms that distinguishing their offline turmoil from real-life interactions becomes a blur. It is troubling, to say the least!”
Breaking the habit
So what to do? Dr. Keith Kanner, psychoanalyst and author of Your Family Matters, says: “Facebook can become an addiction like any other addiction if an individual is attempting to avoid underlying conflicts which need to be addressed. Once an addiction is managed, the true issues then come to the surface and can be addressed.”
Other professionals advise using the Internet and social media platforms to foster habits which elevate one's spirits. Examples could be joining a cause, posting photos of nature, engaging in stimulating topics, and staying away from conversations and profiles that are not in your best interests.
The best advice seems is to find stimulating offline hobbies and strictly limit one's time online. To some, this might mean cutting themselves off, but to others, becoming involved in areas that are truly productive can be genuinely beneficial to their overall well-being. Like unplugging and going camping!
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and
owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school
counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle
topics involving family and well-being.